You cant change the people…

My first sight of Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley; Stoke, Fenton, Longton, through the smoke was in the very late 70s when 1 arrived at the Dream on the Hill – Keele University.

Thanks to my parents I had come by car with all my trappings (a fraction of what my children took to Reading and UEA). We travelled up through the relatively rural surrounds of the M6 in this area (with just a glimpse of the city spread out to the right) and into the leafy campus.

So it was a massive culture shock, later on, to descend the hill by bus and visit the urban Potteries. Newcastle-under-Lyme is now a night-out capital for the area, with bouncers on every pub door, but even back then, the pleasant town with its market and generous shopkeepers was a haven for posh students from the soft south.

It was when you abandoned the varsity bus from Keele’s gentle suburbs and went further afield – to the station in Stoke to go home for instance – that you were gobsmacked by culture shock. We went to the Victoria Hall or Trentham for concerts, to buy equipment at Bourne Sports, or to Burslem once or twice, to sit on black-stained splintered benches and watch Port Vale.

One of my favourites was a damp musty second-hand book shop, which 1 think was among the pottery kilns in the Gladstone Street area and was full of workers’ political and religious Penguin paperbacks plus some little gems relevant to my courses.

The bus route passed a specialist oatcake shop, which supplied the basis for many a cheap meal (near another that sold pottery seconds). It passed over a canal (must have been the Trent and Mersey) with water that
was always a dark rust or orange colour, passed the Sentinel newspaper offices and then, as I remember it, rolled into the shattered heart of Stoke. What wasn’t closed was being knocked down and I can clearly recall a massive wasteland in a huge hole in the ground (possibly at Etruria) where the demolition of old factories was taking place.

I had no feel for conservation then, but I do remember the people of the area (like the ladies who cleaned the rooms, me duck) who were the kindest, and least resentful of the privileges of studentship that I could have met.

I remember being off the beaten track somehow and waiting for a bus in a pub frequented by miners. I was a little nervous as to how these hard-working men would treat academic layabouts – but I need not have been. Seeing our black, red and yellow scarves, the middle-aged drinkers treated us with respect and even affection. “If I had my time again,” one told me, “I’d do what you’re doing.”

No town and gown division here. The meat from one of the supermarkets in Newcastle was considered dodgy so we frequented the ‘proper’ butchers where we bought the cheap but meat-packed bacon scraps that were, we were told, “reserved for pensioners and students.”

With the last bus gone before the pubs closed, we’d often trudge slowly back up the A525 from Newcastle, full of smooth Marston’s Pedigree from the Old Brown Jug, with fish and chips from Pool Dam, or pause for massive pancake rolls at the takeaway further up, before playing on the nearby swings as we burnt our mouths on hot bean shoots…

Steve Windsor